December 19, 2012 8:47:31 AM
CALEDONIA -- Going .... going ... goal.
JD Earhart knew he had put the shot on frame. But this wasn't an ordinary shot. It was a left-footed chip from a right-footed player who was trying to create a scoring opportunity for his team in the waning minutes.
"I just kicked it. Hopefully it was going to go in," Earhart said. "I had no idea what it was going to do."
The longer Earhart watched, the ball sailed and sailed, forcing the goalkeeper to backpedal to his goal line. The shot then skimmed off the goalkeeper's fingertips into the lower right corner of the net to give New Hope a 1-0 victory against Caledonia in a non-district match.
"I was laying on the ground because I got knocked off my feet," Earhart said. "I was like, 'Go, go, go,' and it went in."
The victory is the first in recent memory for New Hope (7-4-2) against Caledonia (7-6-1). The teams played to a tie earlier in the season at New Hope.
In the girls match, Pernille Slettestoel scored off a free kick from Effie Morrison in the first half to give New Hope a 1-0 victory against Caledonia.
Earhart, a sophomore, said the victory is the first he has been a part of against Caledonia in four years. He believes it has been six or seven years since the Trojans last beat their Lowndes County rival. He hopes the victory helps New Hope build confidence after experiencing its share of ups and downs earlier in the season.
"We have come a very long way from where we started," Earhart said. "We have improved a lot on our passing and on our shots, so I think we're going to do very well for the rest of the season."
New Hope coach Brian Meggs, who serves as coach of the team with Roger Shilling, agrees the Trojans have made significant strides since the beginning of the season. He said the team has come together and learned how to play together and to rely on each other.
"This team has been fighting for so long to beat them, and I am just really proud of the seniors," Meggs said. "This is my third year with them, and to see them finally walk off in their last game against Caledonia as a winner, it means a lot to me."
With nine seniors on this season's team, Meggs acknowledged the Trojans have taken some "pretty big beatings" from the Confederates in the past. He feels New Hope has closed the gap on Caledonia in the past few years, and that he knew the final match before the holiday break was going to be close.
Goalkeeper Wells Davis did more than his share to keep New Hope in the game. The sophomore goalkeeper made a diving save on Josh Kugel in the first half. He also came off his line aggressively to challenge Kobi Van Sommeren after he got behind the defense. Van Sommeren might have been rushed and slid his shot wide left.
In the second half, Davis made a backhanded save as he retreated to the goal line on a ball that Daniel Longmire played back in. Davis then snared a loose ball to keep the match scoreless.
"For his first year as our goalkeeper, he is doing an outstanding job," Meggs said. "We are so proud of him. He is just so eager to learn, and he has really studied the game. He is only going to get better."
Caledonia controlled large portions of the match by possessing and moving the ball. Kugel, an attacking midfielder, was the most dangerous player. In the first half, he had another great scoring opportunity when he drilled a right-footed shot from 40-plus yards that grazed the top of the crossbar on the left side of the frame.
Caledonia also had a diving header that went wide following a well-placed cross from the right flank in the final minutes.
Caledonia coach Marco Suarez hopes the match is a motivator for his team with pivotal district matches against the Mississippi School for Math and Science, Amory, and Pontotoc coming in 2013. Caledonia lost to Pontotoc 5-0 and to Amory in penalty kicks earlier in the season. Suarez said finishing scoring chances will be a key for the Confederates.
"As a team, we played much better than the other team. We just failed to score," Suarez said. "The next practice we are going to practice scoring. We have been working as a team on passing the ball and dribbling. We want to be able to control the ball.
"I really like how we have been possessing the ball. We're playing as a team."
Girls: New Hope 1, Caledonia 0
Effie Morrison and Pernille Slettestoel have only been playing soccer together for a couple of months, but they showed in the first half they are experienced enough to know how to connect for a game-winning goal.
Moments after Slettestoel was knocked down and drew a foul, Morrison helped her teammate earn her just reward by delivering a free kick right to her. Slettestoel admitted she didn't mean to pop the ball up to herself, but she still had time to volley it past goalkeeper Sarah Freeman and just inside the right post to give New Hope (13-3) the victory.
Slettestoel said she would have loved a chance to take the free kick, but she saw Morrison motion to her that she was going to try to deliver a serve Slettestoel could head home for a goal. The serve reached Slettestoel, but it wasn't high enough for her to head, so she improvised.
"I popped it up. I didn't mean to pop it up. I meant to chip it a little bit," Slettestoel said.
Slettestoel is an exchange student from Norway. She has played soccer for most of her life, and will return to Norway after this school year for her final year of high school. She said she and Morrison are developing a better understanding of where the other one is going to be the longer they play together.
"I wanted her to get a chance to shove it home because she got put on her butt and she is still going to come back," Morrison said.
New Hope coach Mary Nagy liked the depth her team showed despite injuries and sickness. With only one senior and two juniors, she hopes the team gets back to 100 percent in time for the new year and the beginning of what she hopes is a postseason run.
"These girls have worked hard," Nagy said. "Their passing ability has improved greatly. Coach Will (Taylor) has come up with more drills than I can dream of to keep them learning to make those passes and to put them together."
Caledonia coach Jason Forrester felt his team played well but that it could have played with even more intensity, much like it showed in a loss last week to Amory. Still, New Hope only had a 5-3 edge in shots in the first half as both teams traded periods of possession and stretches where they attacked.
Like the boys team, Forrester said the match will prepare the girls squad for the new year and key district matches against Pontotoc and Amory. Caledonia (9-7) defeated Pontotoc in penalty kicks and lost to Amory 2-0 earlier in the season.
"We had a lot of chances in the first half that we should have finished. We just didn't take shots when we should have," Forrester said. "In the second half, we took shots when we shouldn't have. We should have tried to get around a little more because we have the ability."
Forrester was pleased with how his team adjusted to a 4-4-2. He said Caledonia used the formation against Pontotoc and that it helps the team cover the field better. He said his outside midfielders also are learning how to put themselves in better positions on offense.
"It helps us play better defensively because we don't run our midfielders to death and our defenders aren't having to cover so much ground," Forrester said.